The AWCP is home to a collection of exotic animals, many of which were rescued from the illegal pet trade. In its early years, the park also became a drop off point for all manner of unwanted exotic and domestic pets. Over the years, members of the public have brought in anything from prairie dogs to guinea pigs. The Wildlife Park most recently took on a Savannah monitor lizard that is nearly four feet long and was kept in someone’s bedroom!

In a bid to discourage people from keeping pets they cannot handle, the Wildlife Park no longer accepts unwanted pets from the public. “As long as we are seen as a solution for re-homing pets then some will continue to buy exotic pets, believing they can off load them onto us when things get difficult” explains Jessica, the AWCP’s manager.

Over the years, many unwanted pets have been released by unscrupulous pet owners into the Nature Reserve, into the Botanic Gardens and even the Commonwealth Park, from iguanas, terrapins, to snakes and more commonly, rabbits.

Although most have been re-homed with help from the Gibraltar Veterinary Clinic, some of the rabbits became residents and now form part of the petting area of the zoo, along with a small collection of guinea pigs. The idea behind this area is that visitors are able to pet the rabbits (if the rabbit allows) and hopefully can reduce the need to keep rabbits as pets. Rabbits are the third most abandoned animals in shelters. The AWCP urges people to either resist the temptation to own a rabbit or to adopt. Another option is to buy an annual pass and visit the AWCP regularly to see and pet the AWCP rabbits instead!

Since 2012 the rabbits and guinea pigs of the AWCP have been cared for by Hannah Edwards. Hannah joined the park as part of the Government Scheme. A keen horse rider and dog lover in her own time, Hannah loves to be around animals.

9am – Rabbits tend to make a lot of mess. If you have a rabbit as a pet, unless you can manage to litter-train your rabbit, then be aware: you will spend a lot of time picking up droppings! One of the first jobs for Hannah at the AWCP is to clean the rabbit and guinea pig area. Being the first area of the zoo, it is important this area is kept neat and presentable and it’s important to provide fresh, clean bedding regularly.

12pm – Second feeding time. The rabbits at the AWCP have a diet of fresh vegetables, weeds and grasses with unlimited access to hay throughout the day. They are also given one small feed of alfalfa rabbit food. Hannah distributes the food at different times throughout the day, so they don’t get bored.

Rabbits are relatively common household pets but the level of care required to keep them is often little understood. They are not great house pets, although they can be trained to use a litter tray. They tend to bite through cables and can be quite destructive when bored. Male rabbits can also become quite territorial and aggressive when not given space. One of the problems encountered at the wildlife park is trying to integrate new rabbits to a group, as this usually leads to aggression and sometimes a splintering of the whole group.

2pm – Their nails and teeth never stop growing. Like humans, rabbits’ nails grow constantly and need a trim about every six weeks. Unlike humans, rabbits’ teeth grow constantly! This makes it imperative that your rabbit gets unlimited timothy hay and wooden toys to chew on. At the Wildlife Park, the rabbits are regularly provided with natural sticks and browse to chew on. Hannah also health checks the rabbits and Guinea pigs, paying close attention to their teeth and nails.

RABBIT FACTS:

  • Many people think that rabbits are less of a commitment than dogs or cats. However, rabbits need even more attention and space than their feline or dog companions.
  • Rabbits can live 10 years or longer, so make sure that you’re ready for the level of responsibility.
  • They’re prey animals.
  • Rabbits who are sick or in pain will hide it as much as possible.
  • Natural ranges for rabbits in the wild are between 4 and 9 acres. So small cages sold for rabbits in pet shops are just not adequate for adult rabbits.

 

One of the problems encountered in Gibraltar is the release of rabbits into the Nature Reserve and into the Botanic Gardens. In the nature reserve there is a fragile population of European rabbits. Domestic rabbits released here will breed with these wild rabbits which is detrimental to the European rabbit population in Gibraltar. As part of a greater scheme to introduce more wildlife to the Upper Rock, a collaboration between the Government’s Department of the Environment, GONHS and the Gibraltar Nature Reserve Management Team has introduced wild rabbits in areas including Windmill Hill, Upper Rock fire breaks and near Bruce’s Farm. Never release any pet; invasive species are responsible for the loss of native wildlife and disrupt the local wildlife

Invasive species introduced from captivity (usually the illegal pet trade) are a huge problem for native wildlife around the world. The AWCP is currently working with a project in Brazil dealing with a more exotic problem than the domestic rabbit. Common marmosets are found throughout South America but have recently been accidentally introduced in areas where fragile populations of other marmosets exist. Common marmosets are hardy and gregarious creatures that thrive near human settlements and have driven out local marmoset species from already fragile forest fragments. They have also begun to hybridize with them, something that has a devastating impact on the endangered species survival. You can read more about this project in next months’ ZooKeeper Diary.

Last year the Gibraltar Government published a bill to amend the Animals and Birds Act, which proposes “significant” changes in law for the protection of animal welfare. The maximum penalty for cruelty to animals has also been increased to five years’ imprisonment on indictment. The AWCP hope that this act will see a reduction in abandonment and mistreatment of animals in Gibraltar.

Think carefully before buying any pet: Adopt, don’t buy! Be responsible and prevent unwanted offspring by neutering. If you must own a pet, be a responsible owner!

The AWCP is currently looking for homes for two rabbits abandoned in the Botanic Gardens. Please contact us you are able to provide an excellent forever home or foster home. 200 64273 / info@awcp.gi

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Jess Leaper
Jess Leaper has managed the Alameda Wildlife Conservation Park (AWCP) for over 12 years. Having completed her MSc project on the Barbary macaque, she later returned to Gibraltar and was asked to help out at the Wildlife Park. Vowing to somehow improve the enclosures of the primates there before she moved on, she managed that and much more. Now also active locally in sustainability groups and campaigns, raising awareness of Climate Change, particularly in relation to species and habitats.